The Parallax View (1974)

Directed by Alan J. Pakula; Written by David Giler and Lorenze Semple Jr.

Cold and cynical, The Parallax View is Pakula’s tart, defeatist shot to All The President’s Men’s chaser, the transgression effecting the latter’s remedial attempt to restore the good name of investigative journalists and preserve hope in their accomplishments. 

Because hope in the truth’s perseverance not what Pakula’s film trades in, as it steps on the heels of Warren Beatty’s Joseph Frady, a reporter who starts looking into the suspicious deaths of people who witnessed the assassination of a political candiate. It leads him to confront a conspiracy carried out by shadow-clad men with corporate efficiency, their work not only the murder of innocents, but their apparent succes in doing so also a stab at the notion of a just, transparent society that we may be fools for believing in. 

It’s to Beatty’s credit that this is not an abstract exercise in political nihilism, but a tightly-tethered story of one man’s uphill struggle against it, and the ideal embodiment of animalistic pursuit is Warren Beatty, whose muscular face and body makes him a consummate survivor, a feral hound who doesn’t let go once his jaw tightens around his obsession. As an investigator, he’s a screwdriver: rigid, has a few uses, elemental. 

The beauty to Beatty’s beast is Gordon Willis’ camerawork and production designer George Jenkins’ world-weaving around this singular man. Wide shots of convention halls, endless hallways, and grid-like ceilings make up the machine Frady’s fighting, an infrastructure of collusion wherein all outsiders are vulnerable.  

Semple Jr. and Giler’s script, based on Loren Singer’s novel, tries to shoehorne this struggling reporter into an action film, where little of his work would suggest a journalism background. Car chases, bar room brawls, bomb notes – it all makes for great action, but there’s a gap a journalist’s regular skillset and the hijinks Frady must show himself capable of. Not that realism is what Pakula set out to reach, but Frady could just as well be a curious carpenter with a flexible schedule, that’s how little his journalism background comes into play. 

As rambunctious as it might be at times, The Parallax View is also scary and prescient. Central to Frady’s investigation is Parallax, a recruitment agency of sorts, who seeks out maladjusted angry men to train them into foot soldiers capable of carrying out dark deeds with little consideration. With test questions centered around a candidate’s asocial tendencies, anger issues, contempt for others and sense of feeling misunderstood, it’s easy to see a straight line between then and now where fringe internet communities are recruitment sites for the next generation of terrorism cells of all convictions.

The Parallax View has some stunning moments that show real artistry, but they’re lone notes against a mostly humdrum melody, suggesting, but not realizing something much greater, leaving you with the sense that Beatty’s performance is both one man’s struggle against the machine, and one actor’s struggle with material he was given.

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